Tuesday 28 May 2013

Cow Parsley: uber trendy plant, or just a weed?

My mother managed to get to Chelsea last week, and her big comment was ‘there are lots of gardens with loads of weeds in them including cow parsley?!’ this was good as it made her feel better about the weeding (i.e. we should stop immediately). I hadn't noticed it, but then when catching up over the Chelsea coverage there was indeed a lot of cow parsley everywhere...even planted next to Mr Titchmarsh’s presenter’s booth

Now I am a fan of the move towards the informal and naturalistic approach to gardening but wonder if cow parsley is too much? Perhaps it is my upbringing but cow parsley was always seen as a bit of a devil weed and one which set off mum’s hay fever and to be avoided at all costs. Don’t get me wrong I have a bit of a secret liking of the black stemmed form, but the regular one?

The move to the naturalistic has been really interesting to watch, and one which seems to have accelerated over the last 18 months with all the superb planting around all the Olympic sites. This seems to have cemented the move towards pollinator/wildlife friendly planning as oppose to planting which is solely British natives and has been advocated for a long time. I have always found this ‘all or nothing’ approach a bit too much as I do love British wildflowers, but they do tend to peak at about now and then look decline. The new work around finding nectar rich plants which work for local wildlife through the year and also extend the period of interest for wildflower meadows is fabulous with good use of American prairie plants and also things like Cosmos which pick up when others begin to flag. I love this style of planting as it looks fabulous and is good for wildlife....it is not ‘wrong’ as it isn't just British natives!

Which brings us back to Cow Parsley.....nice in the countryside, but in gardens? Is this part of a wider trend for a garden to be just a piece of managed wilderness? Should I get over it and go out and plant lots immediately? A plant for the front of the border or compost heap?

Friday 24 May 2013

My 100th blogpost: special anniversary edition!

Well, 2 1/2 years on and I have got to my 100th blog post, hurrah!

I started the blog in Christmas 2010 which was a time when we had just got accepted into the fabled 'Yellow book' of the National Garden Scheme and also taken on a huge new garden project from buying a huge (for London!) derelict piece of land. The blog was a way of recording and sharing how things developed.

As with many things in life I don't think I could have predicted how things would go, however the one thing I do know is that the world of plants and the people that inhabit it are rather wonderful. I have had adventures visiting different gardens, bought far too many plants, killed more than I will admit and met some fabulous people including fellow bloggers and a brush with TV.

This anniversary special looks back over the highlights...

I think this sums up about a year and a half of work before opening for the first time...eek! The NGS is a fabulous world and I don't regret opening however there was a lot of stress in that first year from the pressures of good horticulture to how much to charge for teas and how many Victoria sponges to bake

The new territories before we started looking lush and verdant, hiding the masses of rubble and rubbish...it took a long time to clear but we had some fabulous fires and broke about 20 forks and spades  

Mid clearance....it isn't quite this big as it is before the new fence went up (back half is the neighbours) the huge pile of debris to the right is hop roots which riddled the site with giant Dr Who evil monster style roots

 Older picture of the lower garden in 2006/7 just before we moved in when the garden was pretty trashed..
 Early developments with the newly turfed lawn which I have been trying to reclaim ever since ;) it was a typical low input garden with a rectangular lawn and strip beds round the edge. The soil is about 1ft ok earth then a layer of crockery and oyster shells before solid London clay...
The lower garden developed faster than the top....this is an early bit of tropical exuberance

 I dread to think how many bricks we pulled out the top. We had 5 big skips and have reused all usable bricks...

The layout evolved organically, weed proof membrane trying to stop the bramble and hops

Hurrah for friends who helped!

The lower pond with its big Tetrapanax and banana

 Balinese shrine....I think Balinese and Thai gardens are probably my biggest inspirations for the garden

The slugs were a little against our first opening

Hurrah, the garden at its peak on our first NGS opening
 Ganesh, welcoming visitors to the top

The hired help trying not to scare visitors away
 Steven and Mum running the kitchen....NGS has spurred a whole new era of baking!
People! saying nice things! Overall despite the initially rainy weather the first opening was fabulous

More plant buying...This is in the carpark of Amultree and it is the only time I think I have ever had a panic that I couldn't take home all the plants I had just bought....however it was momentary, as where there is a will there is a way

The fabulous Will Giles's garden, this along with Great Dixter (and Mark and Gaz's garden!) are probably my favourite exotic gardens 

My NBF, the famous, beautiful and witty Carol Klein when we had a day filming for BBC Gardeners World...very odd experience but one of the best birthdays ever

late autumn when the Ricinus grow tall and things start to fade....


A rather empty lower garden

The same view, but in the exuberance of high summer!

2012 was still mega busy as we just kind of stopped in 2011 at the opening, with only half the top being cleared ending at this point which was a bit of a dumping ground...

Which then turned into the summerhouse and shed! this is the same area, but viewed from the other side

Then we found the old pond.....an old Victorian pond, complete with Water Lilly plinths just filled in with loads of old crap, and overall about 20cm under the soil! we had no idea it was there, but have relined it and it now has fish...

Growing things in pots is also key, especially on the terrace...organising them and moving them around has built me up like Popeye
2012 also saw the arrival of bees... me keep bees? am I crazy? yes I am, and foolish too as I just got 4 1/2 jars of honey and 10 bee stings...bee keeping is a lot harder and more stressful than it looks!

The sunken terrace by my flat, 2012 didn't see many days of us sitting out!

Lower garden exuberance

Garden opening 2012! a fabulous day, 189 visitors and we made just under £1000!
 Upper level Garuda
 Lushness at the top with a young Paulownia and Nicandra
 The pavilion
Pond looking lush with Helianthus salicifolius, Cannas Inula and Eupatorium capilliaris
Great Dixter...my favourite garden. I still swoon thinking of it

swoon some more...
Then after winter that kind of brings us right up to the current day...still loads to do, lots of plans and lots of experiments and meeting of people to be done.

So bravo if you have made it to the end of this very long blog! I hope that you have enjoyed the first 100 posts, and you will enjoy the next 100!

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Opening for the Garden Safari: things in their May magnificence

‘I bet that’s one for us’ I said to Steven as we sat at a table in our front garden, waiting for visitors who were coming as part of us opening for the ‘Garden Safari’ however the lady continued down the hill, re-emerging 5 mins later looking a bit flustered.

‘Excuse me, I’m looking for number 8?’ she asked, however seeing her Garden Safari booklet I proudly said how we were also opening. Really she asked…I looked back, a little perplexed as although our part of Camberwell does have some interesting characters I don’t think any sit at tables in their front garden, especially wearing a pith helmet.
Disclaimer: this household does own a pith helmet and Arisaema nepenthoides
So began our opening for the Dulwich Helpline/Southwark Churches Care garden safari….I wasn’t expecting big things as rain had been forecast all week and I didn’t think there would be big numbers….the parentals had also slipped off at 2pm to visit the other gardens saying how no one would be with us before 3pm as we were last on the route, however at 2:15 a steady stream of people started to come, and come and come and come. Before too long it was just like September with people everywhere….toddlers were escaping towards the pond, lots of people were stopping right in front of the bees, I was praying no one would be stung, and people were asking about the garden.

Over the afternoon over 200 people came so all in all they must have made about £1500+ which is great.
People who arent us in the garden! eek! note the Swedish flag on the summerhouse in honour of Saturdays Eurovision Song Contest
After my initial reticence I was pleased to do it....I had no idea how the garden would look as it is such a later summer garden, and currently in a period of transition as I also planted out 25 Ricinus seedlings over the weekend and have trays of seedlings waiting to go in. However doing this has enabled me to get up to speed with where I should be and do those things I had been meaning to do for ages (such as build a shrine to Bacchus/Antinious/Spirits of the land) This also helped me step back and actually see how things were looking fabulous! They aren't looking how I thought they would as 2 months ago I was planting foxgloves everywhere and expecting lots of Nigella however the forget-me-nots held creating a blanket of blue and it looked fabulous.

There were lots of impressed people which was nicely reaffirming, and a good few people who had already visited. Lots of nice planty people too…a big thank you to the guy who offered me a random Datura that his friend from Sao Paulo had sent him the seeds of, who then went home and bought it back for me! Hurrah! Thank you if you visited!

You could be in Holland....

Ganesha got dressed up properly in garb which we brought back from Bali, he does like to look his best for visitors

Keep back bees! all safely behind the mesh. Giant Echium in the background (Echiums were the hot topic of the day) Giant Inula in the foreground

The new shrine to Bacchus/Antinious/spirits of the land complete with fox skulls and headless rabbit and duck which was dug up. Architectural fragments were also dug up

Look at me looking like a vegetable grower, although dont get me started on the flea beetle issues I have with my rocket....


Lobelia tupa and forget me nots, the Lobelia is gradually migrating South

Balinese shrine updated with a new base which is the water lilly plinth we found in the old pond

Ding dong (so sad the Finish Eurovision entry didnt do better)

Is it a glamorous apartment in the South of France? no its my terrace looking nice

Alliums are everywhere....note how this spring bounty is just in a narrow border of the main bed. This is the only way they survive my mid bed planting and digging where I am always putting a fork through something

The technical term is that this fern is flushing....not to be confused with a blushing fern which is entirely different